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Revamp of IPEDS Widens View on Student Outcomes

One big flaw of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Database System (IPEDS) has been fixed. The U.S. Department of Education has revamped its higher education database to begin tracking non-traditional students — the ones who aren't attending school full-time or aren't entering college as freshmen right from high school — an additional 650,000 people.

According to reporting on Medium's Third Way, the improvements cover collection of data on part-time and transfer students as well as information on outcomes for Pell Grant recipients (though the latter appears to be available only in the downloadable files, not in the public reports on College Navigator available on the National Center for Education Statistics website).

Previously, the federal agency has collected its graduation data through the Graduate Rate Survey. The new Outcome Measures (OM) survey is gathering the information about those part-time and transfer students. In the first go-around, reflecting collection in 2016-2017, OM pulled six years of data beginning in 2008 from two-year and four-year institutions in four cohorts:

  • Full-time, first-time entering students;
  • Part-time, first-time entering students;
  • Full-time, non-first-time entering students; and
  • Part-time, non-first-time entering students.

Institutions reported on the number of students in the cohort who earned a degree, remained enrolled at the school, left it to enroll elsewhere or were left out of the cohort because they had departed to serve in the military, died or were disabled or joined a foreign aid service or religious mission. The data was reported through the College Navigator.

An example offered in the Third Way article referenced the University of Maryland University College. While provisional data for the university showed a 9 percent graduation rate for its first-time, full-time students who entered in 2008, only a tiny portion of the student population is made up of those students. However, among the non-traditional students, which make up the bulk of enrolment at the institution, 43 percent earned a degree within six years. Another 23 percent enrolled at a different school within eight years.

More broadly, as Doug Lederman at Inside Higher Ed noted, while 58.5 percent of full-time, first-time students across the country completed a degree at a four-year institution, full-time non-first-timers finished college within the same number of years at a rate of more than 66 percent.

In its coverage of Pell Grant students, the Department of Ed has never released outcomes for those recipients. The United States spends around $30 billion on Pell Grants each year. Now outcomes for that investment will be visible. And next year, the department promises to improve upon the data by including part-timers and transfer students.

The agency also anticipates the release of program-level earnings data for students who receive federal aid.

What the updates to IPEDS don't address — and can't until new legislation is passed by Congress — is finding out where students go when they leave an institution. The College Transparency Act would enable colleges and universities to collect individual student-level data that would allow them to begin compiling this sort of information. Until then, said Third Way Senior Policy Advisor Michael Itzkowitz, "The Department has done about the best they can do at this time; however, without the passage of a bill like the CTA, our ability to understand outcomes for all students will remain a work in progress."

The latest IES report on graduation rates (in preliminary form) is available on the National Center for Education Statistics site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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